The 2023 Women’s World Cup is taking place in Australia and New Zealand from last week until 20 August. But it’s not just the team taking to the pitch: The International Clean Clothes Campaign is shining a light on the responsibility and exploitation in the supply chains of the world’s biggest sports brands, which are also the main sponsors of the competition: Adidas and Nike, sponsors of the event currently taking place in Oceania.
Most of the production of Adidas and Nike,” explains a note from the Italian section of the campaign (abitipuliti.org), “takes place in countries where social protection systems are inadequate, if not non-existent. And for the workers, this has meant being left without pay when their factory has closed its doors”. So many cases are collected in a dossier (Adidas & Nike PayYourWorkers) launched at the start of the Games. In Cambodia, Hulu Garment, a garment factory (which supplies Adidas and other brands), suspended its entire workforce of over a thousand workers at the beginning of March 2020, when Covid began to hit global supply chains. The factory has no orders,’ the company said, ‘and may have to lay off workers. There is also a document to sign to receive a wage suspension. Many sign, not realising (some are semi-illiterate) that there is a line at the bottom of the pay slip declaring their resignation…
The pandemic has had a detrimental effect on offshoring, and in Cambodia’s textile industry – to name just one country where the regime’s last concern is rights – over a hundred factories producing goods for international fashion and sportswear brands have taken advantage of this to avoid paying wages. According to the unions and the campaign, workers are still waiting for around $109 million in wages that were withheld during the national lockout in April and May 2021. “Of this, 30,190 workers at eight Adidas supplier factories have lost $11.7 million since the strike began, or $387 per worker. During the same period, the German company made a profit of $650 million in the first quarter of 2021.” In the case of Hulu Garment, more than $1 million in severance pay is missing.
Nike is no better, with over two million dollars in unpaid wages and severance owed to Cambodian and Thai workers by Covid.
Cambodia, incidentally, is a country in the news these days. Its ruthless prime minister, Hun Sen (pictured right), declared a ‘landslide victory’ in last Sunday’s general election after the only real opposition party, the Candlelight Party, was shut out of the race in May. The Prime Minister’s People’s Party has claimed a landslide victory, although final results are not expected for another month or so, a victory that will give the Prime Minister a free hand in the succession of power that would reward his eldest son, Hun Manet, who has already been promoted to the party’s top leadership.
“The pandemic,” says Deborah Lucchetti of Abiti Puliti-Clean Clothes, “has only highlighted the structural problems in the fashion industry, including sportswear. There are so many cases of wage theft and unfair dismissal that PayYourWorkers has denounced: some have only been resolved thanks to strong public pressure. But the problem is systemic and requires structural solutions, especially in an international context where there are no effective social protection systems. That is why we, together with many trade unions in the producing countries, are calling on Adidas and Nike to take the lead and sign a binding agreement that guarantees wages, severance pay and freedom of association. To ensure that workers in their supply chains are never again deprived of their basic rights.